Nearly six action-packed months after that Feb. 2 rally, a bill to reorganize higher education while retaining Rutgers-Camden is ready for Gov. Christie's signature, as well as for approval by Rutgers' boards.
And Pritchett is upbeat about the future of the institution he has headed since 2009 - as well as the new relationship he believes it is already building with Rowan.
"Call me naive, but I still [believe] that when people get together and act in good faith, a good solution will come out . . . even though a few things still have to happen," the West Philadelphia resident, 48, says.
He predicts that if voters statewide approve a proposed $750 million higher-education bond issue, two out of three long-envisioned classroom buildings could break ground on the Camden campus within 18 months.
The bond issue, which also is expected to generate an additional $500 million in construction and other funding for campus projects statewide, became a central issue as the proposed takeover morphed into a merger and finally a limited partnership with Rowan.
"I think in the legislators' minds, higher-education reform and the bond issue were intertwined," Pritchett says. "One wasn't going to happen without the other.
"One reason we haven't had a bond issue for 30 years is because Rutgers University and the state have not had a good relationship. So in my mind it was really crucial to get to a resolution that was positive."
Also in need of improvement: The relationship between Rutgers-Camden and its spurned suitor.
Under the legislation, the Glassboro-based Rowan will be designated a research university (Rutgers is one already). Rowan also will partner with Rutgers in new programs related to the health sciences, particularly in the city.
"I am excited about the opportunity to collaborate," Pritchett says, noting the imminent opening of the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, in downtown Camden. "I believe we can accelerate our growth through that partnership."
But Rowan will not be transformed into the dominant state institution of higher education in South Jersey, as called for in Christie's initial proposal.
"I know there are hard feelings between our community and the Rowan community," Pritchett says. "But underneath all of the rancor, my faculty has built some strong relationships with the faculty at Rowan. We are talking about things they actually can work on together.
"Opposition [to a merger] was not a complaint about Rowan," he continues. "A Rowan degree is not a bad degree. I want to make that clear.
"But the crucial argument was that losing Rutgers in South Jersey would be bad for South Jersey, and the state, and Camden," where the university has built strong community ties. "It's a really hard argument to refute, because it just is true."
The governor's dramatically undiplomatic declaration that Rowan would take over Rutgers-Camden, period, inspired a grassroots revolt facilitated by social media and websites, as well as the "Keep Rutgers in South Jersey" signs that sprouted on lawns across the region.
"The amount of attention - you really can't put a price on that," Pritchett says, noting that the controversy also has had a galvanizing effect on the school's 40,000 alumni. Many of them "realized this is an important place to them, and that they might have lost it."
There have been some less-than-salutary impacts, too. Applications to the law school have declined, and uncertainty about the future status of the campus contributed to the departure of a few faculty members as well as decisions by some undergraduates to go elsewhere.
Rutgers-Camden has until recently grown at a rate of about 5 percent a year; enrollment stands at about 6,600.
"We will grow," Pritchett declares. "And I think we can play a role in helping the city grow."
Contact Kevin Riordan
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